Research, Development, and Testing

Freie Universität Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität, and Charité have joined forces to support research spin-offs with a start-up grant, the Berliner Startup Stipendium.

Jun 13, 2017

Christian Stöcklein and co-founders present their research findings and business model for the GelTouch Technologies project: programmable surfaces that create tactile buttons on demand.

Christian Stöcklein and co-founders present their research findings and business model for the GelTouch Technologies project: programmable surfaces that create tactile buttons on demand.
Image Credit: JoAnn Stuhr Images

Monitoring heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels 24/7 conventionally requires a patient to be fully wired up and stay put, literally tied to the hospital bed. From his work at the Charité university hospital’s Center for Space Medicine and Extreme Environments, Oliver Opatz knows there is another way. A specialist in anesthesiology and intensive care medicine, it was Opatz who had the idea behind the Blue Swarm spin-off project. The project name relates to a “swarm” of sensors that are attached to the patient and communicate with a base station by wireless link. The sensors are small, antibacterial, waterproof, and easy to clean. Patients carrying them are able to move around and even use the shower while medical staff use a tablet computer to track their vital signs.

More Time for Prototyping

But to perfect Blue Swarm at a competitive price, what the researchers need most is time for research, development, and testing. “So we applied for the Berliner Startup Stipendium and were delighted when we received the award,” says Ivo Soares Parchao. Thanks to the financial shot in the arm, the bioinformatician on Opatz’s team and his teammate Ben Hilmer can now dedicate six months to developing a prototype using premises and lab space on the Charité campus in Berlin-Mitte.

“Blue Swarm is a typical example of the kind of start-up we aim to promote with the Berliner Startup Stipendium,” says Marcus Luther, who advises spin-offs as innovation manager at Charité. “The idea has market potential and the team is ideally qualified to realize that potential. But the project was just not far enough advanced for other grant programs.”

Strong Partners

It is for cases like this that Freie Universität Berlin, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin, and Humboldt-Universität jointly launched the Berliner Startup Stipendium, a grant that can be awarded quickly and with minimum red tape. The program is funded by the Berlin Senate Administration for the Economy, Technology, and Research and the European Social Fund. It provides funding for two to four team members to be paid 1,500 euros each a month for a six-month term. In some cases the funding can be extended for an additional six months.

Central Administration for All Awards

A total of 63 researchers from 26 teams have been awarded the funding since the program’s launch in November 2016. Shared ownership of the program has many advantages for the universities involved: “Its administration is pooled, making it unnecessary for each university to commit resources,” says Florian Hoos, who heads the Centre for Entrepreneurship at Technische Universität Berlin. “The teams are each attached to a specific university but can make use of start-up programs at the other universities as needed – such as the prototyping workshop at Technische Universität Berlin and the special medical expertise available at Charité.” The start-ups also benefit from networking with other teams. Berliner Startup Stipendium events also bring grant holders together with potential investors, business owners, experts, policymakers, and journalists.

Tactile Buttons on Demand

The meetings, where all grant holders present their work, also present Viktor Miruchna, Christian Stöcklein, and co-founder Paul Krause with a good opportunity to forge contacts. The three engineers’ grants are coming to an end, and they are keen to showcase the fruits of their work. Viktor Maruchna laid the groundwork for GelTouch Technologies in his master’s thesis at Technische Universität Berlin. The aim now is to make a product out of it, a programmable surface that can create tactile buttons on demand – such as a keypad to type on or a user interface for an Industry 4.0 application.

The aim of the business idea put forward by Miriam Boyer and Marlene Bruce Vázquez del Mercado is to help people with intolerance to gluten, a family of proteins found in cereals. They have developed a process to reduce the quantity of the allergen in wheat flour. Together with marketing specialist Cladia Stosno, the researchers at Freie Universität Berlin plan to launch a start-up and make their method of making low-gluten foods available to producers.

Evgeniy Chernyshev, Konstantin Emich, and Anna Durova have developed an app for fashion and shopping fans. Working at Humboldt-Universität, they designed ARVIS, an “Advanced Recognition and Visualization System” for clothing. The fashion app helps users identify clothing items from pictures taken with a smartphone. It tells them where they can find the pictured clothing item or something similar and order it online.

“Wherever research is done, good ideas come out for the products of tomorrow,” says Streffen Terberl, who heads the service unit for knowledge and technology transfer in the research department at Freie Universität Berlin. “With the Berliner Startup Stipendium, working in collaboration between the four institutions we have created a means of promoting such ideas at an early phase in a way that allows them to grow and flourish.”

Volker Hofmann, managing director of Humboldt-Universität’s knowledge and technology transfer company, sees the three Berlin universities and Charité with their innovative research and more than 100,000 students as a key success factor for the Berlin start-up scene: “The State of Berlin acknowledges this and increasingly supports us with programs for academic spin-off grants to leverage the growing potential for start-ups found at our universities. The Berliner Startup Stipendium is a great example.” According to Hofmann, it could also lead to new joint formats. He says, “We continue to work together on creating ever closer links between innovative research, academic spin-offs, and business to promote a lively and sustainable start-up culture.”